Bendable Concrete

Tom Robertson: Posted on Friday, November 23, 2012 2:42 PM
We often talk about life in blacks and whites, but life is lived in grays. Take the opposites “rigid” and “flexible”. The most rigid, unforgiving thing I can think of is concrete, and now there is “bendable concrete”*! Project leaders trying to enforce The Plan may see a black and white choice between order and chaos. What’s really needed is an agile shade of gray.  

Balancing project structure and flexibility is a fine art. Too little structure gives us the Wild West, unmet commitments, and a team limited to what can be achieved by the fittest survivor.  Too much structure smothers the initiative needed to overcome the unknowns limiting The Plan at the start of any project. Everyone knows this, but getting the right balance is so difficult that most of the time most projects find themselves some distance from the sweet spot.  

An organization’s projects are more successful when they     

Are realistic about uncertainties – The software industry got much better when they gave up pretending they knew precise specifications and implementation costs at the start of a project.    

Tailor information infrastructure – There are great methodologies out there for maintaining knowledge bases and tracking projects. Unfortunately, as successful organizations scale up they often forget how to be lean and mean when that is needed  

Foster transparency with stakeholders – It takes guts to air problems in front of a customer, but we need them to participate in the inevitable journey of discovery associated with any project, and to look for best return on investment, not perfection. 

Of course, an organization is more than the sum of its projects.  Balancing structure and flexibility acquires new dimensions at the enterprise level. This will be the topic of our next post.

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